The star-stud­ded Hol­ly­wood awards show not broad­cast on TV

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

ASIMI VAL­LEY, Calif.

fter spending two weeks on some­thing akin to a fact-find­ing mis­sion in de­pressed New York and de­pleted Wash­ing­ton, D.C., I found no an­swers to our na­tion’s mount­ing ills. I dis­cov­ered that there is much to be an­gry about and un­lim­ited rea­sons for deep con­cern. But on the evening af­ter my re­turn, the stars aligned on the out­skirts of Los An­ge­les at the Ron­ald Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary, and for a brief mo­ment I felt safe again in Amer­ica.

On March 7, my wife and I were priv­i­leged to at­tend the sec­ond an­nual “Cel­e­bra­tion of Free­dom Gala.” We joined more than 1,000 oth­ers who, like us, were elec­tri­fied to honor 43 of the 98 liv­ing Medal of Honor re­cip­i­ents. We also gave our thanks to for­mer first lady Nancy Rea­gan, war hero and ac­tor Charles Durn­ing, and Gen. David H. Pe­traeus.

In be­tween cour­ses, we heard rous­ing pa­tri­otic vi­gnettes. One was Steve Amer­son’s re­fresh­ingly tra­di­tional and soar­ing na­tional an­them. An­other was a tear-in­duc­ing “Free­dom Never Cries” from John On­drasik of Five for Fight­ing. Scores of celebri­ties don­ning black ties and gowns min­gled with our na­tion’s high­est-dec­o­rated vet­er­ans and ac­tive-duty men and women.

Un­like at other awards shows, this star-stud­ded crowd hon­ored some­thing big­ger than them­selves. I note this without tak­ing any­thing away from the in­di­vid­ual achieve­ments of tal­ented artists who have paid homage to ev­ery cause un­der the sun. But this event was dif­fer­ent. The armed forces of the United States have fought and died to pro­tect the free­dom of ex­pres­sion that al­lowed th­ese artists to ply their trade.

Be­fore the pro­gram com­menced at the Ron­ald Rea­gan Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary, one prom­i­nent ac­tor sang the praises of HBO’s “Tak­ing Chance” to a Viet­nam-era Medal of Honor re­cip­i­ent. The film is not just an­other Hol­ly­wood at­tack on the mil­i­tary. Quite the con­trary. “I watched it with my son, and we both cried,” the well­known face from film and tele­vi­sion told a true hero. “It is deeply re­spect­ful and not in the least bit po­lit­i­cal.”

The same could be said of the din­ner. Par­ti­san­ship was not on the bill as dozens of dec­o­rated vet­er­ans of un­known par­ti­san stripe stood to ac­cept the au­di­ence’s un­con­di­tional and rous­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion.

Tom Sel­leck pre­sented the “Life­time Achieve­ment Award” to a frail yet still el­e­gant Mrs. Rea­gan, who re­ceived the first ex­tended stand­ing ova­tion of the evening. The 87-year-old for­mer first lady was mak­ing her first pub­lic ap­pear­ance since frac­tur­ing her pelvis and sacrum in Oc­to­ber. She sum­moned the courage to ac­cept the award in front of a cross-sec­tion of peo­ple who have grown to ad­mire her dur­ing her half-cen­tury in Hol­ly­wood and in pub­lic ser­vice.

Gary Sinise, a Pres­i­den­tial Cit­i­zens Medal re­cip­i­ent and the event’s co-spon­sor, de­liv­ered the Bob Hope Award for Ex­cel­lence in En­ter­tain­ment to Charles Durn­ing, whose courage and grit dur­ing World War II earned him the Com­bat In­fantry­man Badge, the Sil­ver Star, the Bronze Star and three Pur­ple Hearts. The 86-year-old star of “The Sting” and “Dog Day Af­ter­noon” re­ceived a hero’s wel­come wor­thy of both his mil­i­tary and film ca­reer.

Mr. Sinise asked at­ten­dees to com­mit them­selves to en­ter­tain­ing the troops and sin­gled out one ac­tor/singer who had done so in spades: Con­nie Stevens, who la­bored for 40 years for the USO. Miss Stevens, still beau­ti­ful and ra­di­ant at 70, ac­cepted the ex­tended and de­served stand­ing ova­tion.

CNN cor­re­spon­dent Alex Quade re­ceived an award for her coura­geous and hon­est war re­port­ing. One could not help but no­tice how ap­pre­cia­tive the men and women in uni­form were for Ms. Quade’s even-handed treat­ment of Amer­ica’s war­riors on the bat­tle­field.

The evening’s big­gest star was Gen. Pe­traeus, who was re­ceived like an A-list star at the height of his ca­reer in the Golden Age of Hol­ly­wood. Gen. Pe­traeus took spe­cial care to thank his wife, Holly, and to note the spe­cial sac­ri­fices of the fam­i­lies of those de­ployed abroad dur­ing war.

Film­maker Jake Rademacher, whose award-winning doc­u­men­tary came out over the March 1415 week­end, was also in at­ten­dance. “Broth­ers at War” pro­vides an up-close and in­ti­mate van­tage of the Iraq war. Rademacher’s broth­ers, Joseph and Isaac, are real-life he­roes and the film’s stars. Those who ap­pre­ci­ate the sac­ri­fice of our mil­i­tary and their fam­i­lies, es­pe­cially dur­ing a time of war, will love Rademacher’s faith­ful and heart-tug­ging work.

At the event’s con­clu­sion, some of Hol­ly­wood’s most fa­mous faces stood around ex­cited to take pic- tures with men wear­ing sym­bols of un­speak­able courage around their necks. The feel­ings were mu­tual. Gen. Pe­traeus was noth­ing short of a rock star. The snap­shot of the event is the one of movie stars and record­ing artists try­ing to take their photo with the man who se­cured victory in Iraq and en­sured that Amer­ica did not have an­other Viet­nam.

Academy Award-win­ner Jon Voight stood around un­til the very end to meet as many liv­ing he­roes as he could. In be­tween tak­ing snap­shots with ad­mir­ers, ac­tor Robert Davi made sure to in­tro­duce his 8-year-old son to as many Medal of Honor re­cip­i­ents as he could find.

One young Marine watched in glee as his friend took a pic­ture with ac­tor, pro­ducer and screen­writer Allen Covert. “I can’t be­lieve the guy from ‘Grandma’s Boy’ is here. We mem­o­rized that movie,” the Marine said.

A large group gath­ered to take in­di­vid­ual pho­tos with ac­tor Dean Cain. One ex­cited ac­tive-duty ser­vice­mem­ber de­clared, “I’m tak­ing a pic­ture with Su­per­man!” Mr. Cain, who is set to go on his sec­ond USO mis­sion to Iraq next month, quickly re­torted, “No, I’m the one tak­ing a pic­ture with Su­per­man!”

For one night in Hol­ly­wood, ev­ery­thing was right. And all was safe in Amer­ica.

Too bad the rest of the coun­try didn’t get to see it. Maybe next year.

An­drew Bre­it­bart is the founder of the news Web site www.bre­it­bart.com and is co-au­thor of “Hol­ly­wood In­ter­rupted: In­san­ity Chic in Baby­lon — the Case Against Celebrity.”

Hon­ored: Charles Durn­ing

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